MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

February 20, 2013

Renewal panel deems zone blighted

Declaration required before redevelopment plan can be formed

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Urban Renewal Authority commissioners declared as blighted Wednesday an area targeted for development in the city’s northwest quadrant.

Administrators presented a final report Wednesday, summarizing their findings that indicate blight exists within the zone targeted for renewal. The commissioners’ declaration is the first step before they can assemble a plan for redevelopment.

State law requires a finding that a proposed project area is blighted and “substantially impairs” urban growth and economic development before reclamation and rehabilitation projects can be undertaken. City Attorney Roy Tucker has been presenting evidence since September that shows development in the area has declined or stagnated.

The area is bounded by Chicago and 11th streets on the east and west and Shawnee Bypass and Talladega Street on the north and south. The 90-acre zone contains about 60 structures, fewer than half of the 124 structures that existed in 1969.

The existing structures include 10 commercial establishments — two of which are vacant — and 47 houses or mobile homes. Tucker said there are 16 vacant residential structures and four others that appear to be occupied but have no water service. During the past decade, six dilapidated structures were demolished, and eight others are scheduled for demolition.

“This area is ill-equipped for commercial and residential development,” Tucker said while summarizing the blight study approved unanimously by the Urban Renewal Authority. “Without intervention, this area is likely to remain in its blighted condition.”

Tucker acknowledged that the targeted area contains properties that do not meet the statutory definition of blight. But the area considered in its entirety met eight criteria used to determine whether blight exists.

The eight criteria identified in the blight study’s findings include the existence of dilapidated structures and deterioration causing unsafe and unsanitary conditions. The findings also included inadequate sanitation provisions, improper subdivision or inadequate parcel sizes, defective or improper streets, lack of parking, arrested economic development, diversity of title and crime.

Rather than submit the blight declaration for City Council approval, City Manager Greg Buckley recommended proceeding with plan development first. Once substantial headway is made toward that end, the declaration and preliminary plans will be submitted for council review.

“We want to have the fundamentals of the plan in place before we take it to council,” Buckley said. “This (the blight declaration) typically does not get a lot of feedback — it’s the next step (of planning) that draws the most attention.”

Mayor Bob Coburn, who sat in on Wednesday’s meeting, said he was “impressed” with how thorough city staff members and Urban Renewal Authority commissioners were during the blight study.

“You have sliced this from every angle,” he said.

The Urban Renewal Authority meets at 10 a.m. on the third Wednesday of each month in the conference room on the second floor of the Muskogee Municipal Building.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.